New student leaders talk about partnership and plans

An interview with Sarah Yoon and Nat Lewis, elected president and VP

By Charles Hermesmann

What first motivated you to run for student body president and vice president?

Sarah: First, I think the experiences I’ve had at Wheaton have definitely been transformative, whether that’s been in classes, or on my floor or just with friends that I’ve met. I really want to pour into the community and give back. The past three years, I’ve found ways to serve Wheaton. First, [by] exploring what Wheaton has to offer on the debate team and on Koinonia. My second year, I was a Deke, and showed hospitality to prospective students and people who could be here and may make Wheaton their home. This past year, I poured in and really fostered a sense of community around me [as a Resident Assistant (RA)]. I think I see Wheaton, and especially student government, as an avenue to advocate for belonging, and if that means using my interactions and my experiences with other people to advocate for those voices, that’s what I’d like to do.

Nat: We’ve actually had the fairly unique privilege of having been alongside each other for a majority of our leadership experience. We were Dekes in the same cohort, RAs not just in the same year but [also] in the same building, so I think that closeness has really afforded increased familiarity with Sarah, increased friendship, increased knowledge of how she works and how her experiences have affected her.

The parts where I’ve thrived the most have been in the nurturing, the energetic speaking on behalf of advocacy, more of the day to day small roles that I’ve been able to observe as an RA. I think that nurturing is where I thrive, and I think during the campaign, there’s this analytical side that has come out as well. It was a very natural choice from the very beginning to run for VP. All my gifts seem to line up with that role.

What do you see as the biggest problem on Wheaton’s campus right now and how do you plan to address it?

S: There is a sense of helplessness, or that sense of [thinking], “As an individual, how am I supposed to create change? How am I supposed to change the world?” I think something that is more universal in terms of Wheaton’s students is that we don’t feel empowered in classes or through comparison with each other — we don’t feel like we can make a difference and that inhibits change, inhibits progress and inhibits cooperation. I think there’s a lot of lack of imagination or a lack of vision for what the future could have in store for us.

N: [There’s] a lot of cynicism on campus. That’s a hard thing to talk about because it comes off as [accusatory], but I think I would have to point the finger at myself first and say that it’s something that we all bring to the culture. The interesting thing about cynicism is that I feel like it’s a particularly hard thing to call out because it is self-perpetuated and defensive. I think the biggest thing you can do is combat it with vulnerability. Radical vulnerability, [but] wise vulnerability.

Some students are concerned that you do not have any previous SG experience. How do you respond to this?

N: We have not had that much student government experience prior to this, but that’s something that we’re very aware of, and we’ve sought to represent a new outside perspective from student government. We’ve just begun to arm-wrestle with some of this information from the very beginning by talking to the SG advisors, previous presidents, previous vice presidents, talking to faculty about strategy, attending the weekly board meetings, reading the constitution and reading proposals. We know that we don’t have that previous experience, yet because we’re aware of it and because we desire to do a good job we have really tried to educate ourselves as much as possible. We haven’t gained our experience from being on the board and being raised in the environment of student government, but we care so much about it that we are willing to not only step into a new zone but do what is required to prepare ourselves to step in.

S: There’s this misconception that the president and vice president create proposals, [but we’re] actually not allowed to vote. So in terms of passing proposals or approving them, that’s something that the EVPs and the people physically on the board do — they are the voting members. I think that Nat’s and my experiences throughout Wheaton have allowed us to tap into different parts of campus in a more holistic way, and that leads to more proper and more effective representation. So, even just last year, both being Dekes we had a behind-the-scenes view of the admissions process. This year as RAs, both Nat and I get to see behind-the-scenes of residence life in forming intentional community that is surrounded by [not only] growth, but also accountability. In my experience as a student ambassador this year, I’ve been able to meet with Dr. Ryken, with so many different faculty and administrative members and employees … and begin forming a bridge between students and faculty. That’s something that Nat and I are already doing. Representation — which is the primary job and purpose of president and VP — is something that Nat and I do already have experience with.

What are your goals for next year? How do you plan to make a difference and what specific changes should students anticipate coming into the 2019-2020 school year?

N: Some of our values are advocacy, belonging and commitment. I think even now, post-election, without at all trying to upstage or usurp the current board’s authority, we’re really trying to figure out how to actively form action steps that will embody those values. Some of those include areas of need, both in our campaign and also in positions to be filled. I think we’ll get a better idea of how the board will be fleshed out and what [the] areas of need are when class officers are elected. As “SG outsiders,” I think we have an acute awareness of how student government is perceived by the student body at large, and I don’t want to speak for everyone in saying they’re all perceiving student government this way, but I think it is not an exaggeration [to say] that a lot of students didn’t know the meeting places and functions of a lot of student government staples like the board meeting [in previous years.] We really want to establish proximity with the student body. We’re also trying to formulate some better ways we can collaborate with other student groups to increase awareness and effectiveness.

Our campaign was focused a lot on the idea of unity, which I think umbrellas out into a lot of other areas [like] sustainability and health. I don’t think that people would jump to the word “unity” when describing our campus culture right now. We’d love to see more collaboration between groups, more communication and more understanding.

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